Very few people touch their world as C. S. Lewis did. Over fifty books have been published to his credit including: Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and Surprised By Joy. Annual book sales remain over two million—half of which comes from The Chronicles of Narnia, written for children.
However, Lewis's greatest achievement was not in an academic sense, but in the university of life. In a time when modern western civilization was entering the "post-Christian" era, Lewis dared to challenge the minds behind modernism and liberal theology. Author David Barratt says Lewis's finest achievement was the ability "to bring old truth and give it new relevancy and vitality in a secular age, and to challenge the new complacencies . . ."
While he was an intellectual scholar and philosopher, Lewis saw himself as "a layman's layman who knew very little." Friends say he never lost sight that the majority of his audience consisted of ordinary people, not philosophical scholars.
C. S. Lewis (Clive Staples), or Jack Lewis as he preferred to be called, was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898. He was one of two sons of Albert and Flora Lewis. His mother died when he was ten. His father, feeling the weight of her death, placed Lewis in a boarding school where he joined his older brother, Warren. Later he attended Malvern College, which he soon left to attend (on a scholarship) University College, the oldest of the Oxford colleges.
In 1917, he enlisted in the service but was allowed to remain at Oxford until he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to frontline action in WWI. After being wounded and discharged, Lewis resumed his studies where he graduated at the top of his class. With no philosophy teaching posts available, Lewis entered a fourth year at Oxford College where he met a Christian student whose influence led to his conversion.
Lewis began reading the works of Christian authors. He particularly admired George Macdonald, a Scottish Christian writer. In his writings, Lewis found a quality of holiness he had not seen before. The works of John Milton, especially Paradise Lost, intrigued him as did the close friendship he shared with JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of The Rings. In 1925, Lewis received an post in English fellowship at Magdalen College at Oxford. After finishing the Narnia series, Lewis continued to write on autobiographical and religious subjects, but less prolifically. Mainly he was preoccupied with the health crises of his wife, Joy Gresham, whom he married in 1956 and who died of cancer in 1960.
After her death, Lewis's own health deteriorated, and in the summer of 1963 he resigned his post at Cambridge. His death, which occurred on November 22nd, 1963—the same day President Kennedy was assassinated—was only quietly noted. He is remembered, however, by readers the world over, whom he has delighted and inspired for generations.
The following is compiled by Santa Cruz Books, a company that specializes in early editions of Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton. I think they know what they're talking about!
Looking for a biography on C.S.Lewis? Here is a short list of some of my favorites in no particular order. There are many others that discuss particular aspects of his life and are excellent resources.
- Jack by George Sayer. A favorite by many by Lewis's friend.Sayer studied under Lewis and became life long friends.
- A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath. A delight to read!
- C.S.Lewis:A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper. Now updated and one of the best.
- C.S.Lewis at the Breakfast Table edited by James Como. A collection of the remembrances of 22 former friends, colleagues, and students. Has been re-released, I believe, as Remembering C.S.Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him.
- All My Roads Before Me: The Diary of C.S.Lewis
- Owen Barfield on C.S.Lewis by Owen Barfield. Insightful.
- The Narnian by Alan Jacobs (Great audio available read by Jacobs)
- C.S.Lewis:A Complete Guide to His Life and Works by Walter Hooper. Although the biographical section is short, it is very interesting and his guide to Lewis's books is thorough.
- The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story by Will Vaus is a wonderful introductory biography of Lewis. This is well suited for older children through young adults., although an excellent read aloud book for children (which is my plan!)
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